Monday, 20 February 2012

Chinese-Style Baked River Cobbler with Kai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) in Oyster Sauce

Fish is fashion. River cobbler is really a fish called 'basa' from the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. It has a catfish-like, firm meaty texture, which makes it perfect for this dish, because it soaks up flavours and does not taste in any way fishy - it's actually more like a steak. Mrs Ribeye prefers it to any other fish - which is good for me, because it's about the cheapest thing on the fish counter.

I started buying river cobbler years ago, as an impoverished student, horrified at the price of cod and haddock (the last generation's poor man's fish species). But because of its rising popularity, I am seeing the price rising now. It is currently at a very fair £7.50 per kilo - but it'll get dearer than that soon, trust me. I'll soon be making this dish with the (questionably) edible parts of the Indonesian poisonous puffer fish or South African puke-your-guts-up fish, probably. If you can't find river cobbler in your local shop, you can use any other white-fleshed fish.

Anyway, because river cobbler can take a good strongly-flavoured marinade, I decided to Chinese-it-up a bit, with fresh ginger and garlic and then bake it in foil parcels 'en papillotte'. Utterly delicious, and a bit theatrical when you get a puffed-up parcel on your plate.

Kai lan is a Chinese broccoli, but without the western-style flowery florets. In fact, it's just like our stalky bits, but with spinachy leaves - and very tender and scrumlicious they are too, when lightly steamed or boiled. Buy them from your local Asian grocer, or use regular broccoli instead. While you are at the Asian grocer's, buy a bottle of authentic oyster sauce and some crispy dried onions. I use an oyster sauce brand called Woh Hup (99p for 180g) and a crispy onions brand called Top Taste (£1.25 for 150g). Perfect flavours and textures to offset the broccoli stems.

This whole dish is student-priced at £2.25 per serving. You can serve steamed rice with it, and still be under budget.

Serves 4

Chinese-Style Baked River Cobbler


800g river cobbler (8 fillets)
Thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100g mushrooms, finely sliced
100g red pepper, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
50ml dark soy sauce
50ml toasted sesame oil

Preheat oven to 200c. On a large sheet of foil, lay a river cobbler fillet. Arrange a layer of mushrooms down the fillet's length, followed by a sprinkling of garlic, ginger, red pepper and chilli. Spoon a little soy sauce and sesame oil over the fillet and lay the second fillet on top. Make a loose, but airtight, parcel with the foil, and place it on a baking tray. Repeat with the remaining three parcels. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the parcels have puffed-up. Serve with the kai lan in oyster sauce.


 Kai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) in Oyster Sauce


500g kai lan stems
90g Woh Hup brand (or other) oyster sauce
50g Top Taste brand (or other) dried crispy onions

Boil or steam the kai lan until tender, but not overcooked (8-10 minutes approx). Arrange on a plate and spoon a dollop of oyster sauce in the centre of the dish. Sprinkle with crispy onions immediately before serving.

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